Business is stressful because things are always going wrong. As a CEO you might wonder, when is this going to end? When will it get easier? What level of sales or profits do I need to attain? At what point will my business be strong enough and healthy enough that I’m not constantly worried it will somehow crash and burn?
I was a founding member of a group of entrepreneurs called, The Startup Founders. We were all in various stages of starting and growing businesses. As we grappled with the day-to-day challenges that a startup must shoulder and solve, the group gave us a safe place to process “issues.” They could be anything from problems with a partner or in my case, a substitute for not having a partner. There were also the questions relating to raising money, formulating a business model, or pivoting when that model wasn’t working. It was a case of helpful collective intelligence.
One day I was talking on the phone to a fellow member who came up with a brilliant idea relating to photo storage. She was complaining how difficult the process was, and how she was so tired of fighting through all the problems that kept appearing at her doorstep, like that trick-or-treating kid who kept coming back for more candy. At one point she cried out, “When is this going to get easier!?”
Before I answered her, I thought of a great book I had read that perfectly answered this question. It’s actually one of my top ten business books, “Losing My Virginity,” by Richard Branson, and I highly recommend you read it. The subtitle is, “How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way.” A little wordy to be sure, but it well describes the contents and pearls of wisdom contained therein.
Reading about Branson’s trials and travails when he started Virgin Airways is when I had my epiphany:
It’s always hard and it never gets easier until you sell the company.True story. Even when Branson was running an actual airline and he was a billionaire on paper, he was still fighting with British Airways almost every single day in addition to all kinds of problems like labor and mechanical issues and scheduling and cash flow and raising money and paying off debt and … you get the point. As Roseanne Roseannadanna, played so brilliantly by the late Gilda Radner used to say, “It just goes to show you. It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
And that was my epiphany. It’s always hard and it never gets easier until you sell the company. If it is hard for Richard Branson, it sure as heck isn’t going to be any easier for me, for us.
I told my friend that. I told her that it’s never going to be easier until she sells her company and just knowing that, going into it, makes it easier. Right? If you know this, you can roll with the punches, you can not be disappointed when your expectations are not being met, because basically, you cannot have any expectations. You just take it one step, one day at a time. And then you’ll be fine! Trust me! I’ve built three companies from the ground up.
It also brings to mind another one of my top ten business books, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” by Dale Carnegie. It is chock full of helpful methods and processes to actually cure your stress and worry problems. Chapter 3 in his book is called, “What Worry May Do to You.” In that chapter he quotes Dr. Alexis Carrel, Nobel prize winner in medicine: “Businessmen (okay, it was written in the 40s) who do not know how to fight worry die young.” Then Dale Carnegie gives you multiple ways and means that you can deal with your stress and worries. I’ve read this book dozens of times.
In an earlier Medium Article I talk about one of his methods that has worked for me every time, “Before You Freak Out, Ask Yourself These Four Questions.”
In the end, my friend didn’t move forward with her business. The biggest issue was that Google happened to come out with a product very similar to hers and she felt that it didn’t make sense to continue. Understandable. At least she knew early before she pumped more money into her venture.
I’ve shared my epiphany with many others since that time, with the hopes that it would help them manage their expectations. I believe that it has helped. I know that it has helped me.
P.S. Congrats to Sara Blakely for selling her Spanx business to Blackstone yesterday. She can now take a well-deserved, deep relaxing moment. I’m sure she’ll be back at it soon.